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Mainstream, VOL LV No 25 New Delhi June 10, 2017

The Barricades and Battlelines in Kashmir

Saturday 10 June 2017, by Badri Raina

Three years into the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, the battlelines between the partners seem now clearly drawn. A sort of Zionist discourse seems afloat, which cautions that the governments now in the saddle both at the Centre and in the State are “different” (Ram Madhav) and the Valley must learn to know its proper place. Indeed, parts of the Valley are coming to be conceived as a sort of West Bank and some downtown areas as India’s own Gaza Strip. Mehbooba Mufti seems cast in the role of a hapless Mehmood Abbas, full of goodwill and conciliatory intentions but visibly out on a limb that has little promise of spring.

To the extent that this assertive re-configu-ration of the relations of the different parts of the State one to another, and of the State to the Union seeks not too subtly to deny and obliterate past histories of negotiations between representatives of Kashmiris and the Constituent Assembly of India on the terms and conditions of Accession, it rejects the position that the troubles in the Valley have any legitimate antecedents and that therefore there is no contentious agenda that requires debate or attention. The agitators are thus seen as merely being the paid fifth columnists of a hostile foreign power that seeks to sever the Valley from the Republic on theocratic principles. That there are voices in the Valley which favour such a course is of course not to be denied, just as there are fringe elements in Palestine, propped up by Arab theocracies, that refute the overwhelming secular and democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people. In this official paradigm, it should be noted, the none-too-hidden Hinduisation of the Union and parts of the State are not to be seen in any theocratic light but as “natural” expressions of a “healthy nationalism”.

Among those Kashmiris who are enamoured neither of India nor of Pakistan—in effect, the overwhelming majority of Kashmiri Muslims—a counter-narrative is widespread. This counter-narrative, I have been told by highly literate Kashmiris, draws its inspiration and hope from the experience of the erstwhile East Pakistan. It is speculated that just as the revolt in that part of the then undivided Pakistan began with student protests, so is it now happening in the Valley. Just as India helped forge the Mukti Bahini, Pakistan is helping forge its parallel, as they think, here. And just as the Indian armed forces moved in to liberate the oppressed eastern wing at an opportune moment, so will the armed forces of Pakistan strike in the disaffected Valley. The point of the analogy is not that it carries comparable political truth or historical basis; the point is that its arithmetic seems to many Kashmiri Muslims strikingly viable. It is another matter that, were this eventuality to fructify as Kashmiri “freedom”-seekers hope, the next gruesome battles might involve those Kashmiris who see “freedom” in secular-demo-cratic terms and others who, as in Bangladesh, might wish to carry forward the “liberation” into a Sharia-driven Islamic State.

The once dominant opinion—that the State’s best interests lie in a continued alliance with the Union of India but on the terms and conditions that were codified in the Instrument of Accession—may now truly be a pathetically shrunken lobby, obliged not to shut the eye to the realities on the ground. Nothing in the thinking or the behaviour of the Central Government of course lends the least encouragement to the prospect of once again honouring the covenant that was willingly made by an overwhelmingly Muslim majority province with the promise of the Constitution of the Indian Republic. As stated earlier, the policy now seems to be to pulverise the Valley into swallowing the “integrative” draught of the irreproachable “nationalist” potion so that Kashmiri Muslims wake up the next morning as unquestioningly “loyal” Indians. That this policy seems everyday on the ground and along the borders refuted and scoffed by ever-increasing levels of violence and rejection appears for now to carry scant weight with those who admire the state of Israel as their role-model.

In the meanwhile, those who advocate dialogue and sagacious listening to all voices party to the imbroglio are thought to be doves, but dangerous ones because in speaking of dialogue and peace they are viewed to lend encouragement to those who wish to perpetuate the idea that there is anything wrong in Jammu and Kashmir. The doves may well return the compliment and remind the accusers of the ostrich but for now to little avail. Think that throughout the bloodshed in Columbia where the Farc rebels fought the state over five decades, back-channel talks never ceased, until both peace and integration had been achieved, leading to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the President of Columbia, or that similar things were accomplished in Ireland, or that even a Trump can publicly contemplate dialoguing with the dictator in North Korea. Think all that but never think that the Indian state may stoop to dialoguing with either the Kashmiris or the Maoists, or Pakistan.

Perhaps there is more than a surgical fix to the elegendary fiftysix that we know not of. Perhaps a renewed Kurukshetra is destined to happen in the springfields of the Valley. Perhaps some new god will materialise to set the Republic and its limbs once again in a genuinely democratic order.

Perhaps legions of distraught and angry little men and women will take matters into their own desperate hands through sustained democratic mobilisation and reclaim the Republic which was forged in their name.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.

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